University of Redlands
Advisory

Media Advisory: California Primary

Though the 2016 Presidential Election continues to dominate headlines, the upcoming California primary ballot, issues and races will be making news over the next few weeks.

Dr. Renee Van Vechten—associate professor at the University of Redlands and a nationally recognized expert on California politics, reform and term limits, and legislative processes—is available for interviews and commentary by appointment to the media.

Possible topics to consider for articles or op/eds include:

Issues of concern to California voters. Van Vechten says the issues voters list as their “most pressing” depends greatly on the party with which they identify. “Democrats and Republicans diverge widely on issues such as the appropriate level of taxes, whether the state should be doing more to address air and water quality, how the state should be dealing with the drought, and whether California is headed in the right direction. Republicans, who now represent a minority of registered party members in California, tend to view the economy as generally poor, and disagree with the policies produced by the majority party—especially when it comes to issues that have moral valence, such as transgender bathroom access and legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Democrats tend to view the economy as improving and more of them think the state is headed in the right direction, while independents are in the middle, slightly more positive than negative when considering the state's overall outlook. Most voters still recognize the drought as needing attention and plan to make changes in their behavior, and they are responsive to high levels of media attention given to particular issues, some of which are driven by the heavy use of the initiative process in California.” 

Relevance of the California primary. Van Vechten says, “In May, just a month before the primary election, almost half of California voters have not made up their minds about whom to vote for in one of the state's most high-profile June races: the U.S. Senate. This is some indication of the disinterested nature of the electorate, an attitude that is shaped by California's place in the primary season. The higher-profile presidential primary is proving to be a little more contentious now that Bernie Sanders is picking up momentum in the state and displacing Hillary Clinton as the runaway favorite; however, because both the Democratic and Republican races are virtually wrapped up and the nominees are more-or-less chosen, voters discount the value of their votes. This dynamic reduces the pool of likely voters, who will have a disproportionate impact on the ‘down-ticket’ races such as those for Congress, the state legislature, and local offices, including judges.”

Impact of California voters. The prevailing sentiment among California voters is that their voices won't matter as much as they will in November, when the presidential election takes place. That would be an incorrect conclusion.  Primary elections by nature draw less attention than general elections, and because so many voters save their energy for the general election and ignore the June primary, the pool of voters is naturally and historically smaller. Citizens who want to have a disproportionate impact on the outcomes of this election should vote in June. The preferences of the June voters will translate directly into a short list of eligible candidates for the November election, whereby the top two vote-getters for state elective office, be they Democratic, Republican, or otherwise, will face off in the November election. Whichever two candidates in each race move onto the November election will have the June primary voters to thank for their efforts. 

Voter turnout and engagement. Van Vechten says, “Unless Bernie Sanders manages to dramatically challenge Clinton in a last-minute surge of voter excitement and electoral momentum, it's unlikely that occasional California voters will be pulled into the election. However, a smaller but regular contingent of registered voters will be turning out to vote in the primary. These tend to be older, white, home-owning, higher-income residents, constituting what the Public Policy Institute of California calls the ‘exclusive electorate.’ In presidential primary elections from 2000 to 2012, the average turnout was less than a third of all eligible registered voters (32.4 percent), or just under half of registered voters (46.7 percent). Regular primary voters are also voting by absentee ballot or ‘vote-by-mail’ ballot at increasing rates, and we can expect that number to be even higher this time around, as nearly half of those registered in the state are permanent vote-by-mail voters (representing 17.8 million voters). Based on current registration statistics, it’s clear that more Democrats will be voting as a plurality of voters identify as Democratic (43.7 percent), whereas just above a quarter identify as Republican (27.5 percent), almost a quarter have no party preference (23.9%), and 5 percent register with smaller third parties. The deadline to register to vote is May 23, and voters can register online at registertovote.ca.gov, or by filling out a form available at most government agencies such as libraries or the DMV. Thus far, easier ballot access, such as online registration, does not appear to be having a significant impact on the number of voters who are signing up to cast a ballot this June.”

To arrange an interview or consult with Dr. Van Vechten, call Jennifer Dobbs at 909.748.8857